With its 6-inch screen, 23MP camera and NFC support, the Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra proves premium features don't have to cost a fortune.
If you're a casual observer of the smartphone industry you might come to the conclusion that premium handsets like the latest iPhone or Samsung Galaxy S device are the only products on the market. Companies like Apple would probably be quite happy with that misconception, but in truth there are plenty of smartphones out there across a broad range of budgets, many of which are just as impressive as the flagship handsets receiving the lion's share of industry hype.
Take Sony's Xperia XA1 Ultra, for instance. Despite being priced firmly in the mid-range market, it sports a 6-inch, full HD display, a sharp 23MP rear camera and an equally impressive 16MP front camera. Those are quality features, the kind that are more than capable of meeting the needs of most smartphone users. In fact, unless you've been upgrading your handset to the latest and greatest each and every year, the Xperia XA1 Ultra is likely to represent a significant jump in performance and functionality.
Sony continues to stick with its distinct if divisive style
Android 8.0 update extends functionality even further
Sony's Xperia smartphones are easy to spot in a crowd thanks to their distinctly boxy designs. Where most manufacturers have settled on a standard curved design, Sony favours straight edges and square frames. This gives the Xperia XA1 Ultra a harder, sturdier look that will probably deter fans of the softer, sleeker aesthetic you typically see. Sony hasn't neglected comfort for the sake of style, at least, with the sides of the Xperia XA1 Ultra rounded slightly to better sit in your hand.
A square body isn't the only curious aspect of the Xperia XA1 Ultra's design. Sony has also left the phone with two large bezels at the top and bottom of the face. Bezels are practically taboo among modern smartphones, since it's wasted space that could be used for more screen real estate or eliminated entirely to make the handset more compact. It's not a huge issue, to be fair, but it still feels like an odd approach for a relatively modern smartphone to take.
Even with those bezels, Sony has packed plenty of screen into the Xperia XA1 Ultra. At 6 inches and with a full HD resolution of 1920 x 1080, it's a prime candidate for watching movies or getting your gaming fix on the go. If you're concerned about damaging that large screen, you'll be happy to know that Sony has built it using Gorilla Glass capable of resisting scratches and fending off other forms of contact damage.
Sony gets closer to the status quo with the rest of the Xperia XA1 Ultra's design. On the entertainment front, you've got a 3.5mm audio jack for hooking up a standard set of wired headphones as well as support for Bluetooth 4.2 if you prefer to rock out with a wireless headset instead. Onboard storage comes in two sizes – 32GB or 64GB – and both can be expanded by as much as 256GB with a microSD card.
The Xperia XA1 Ultra can make your shopping experience smoother, too, thanks to its inclusion of NFC (or Near Field Communication) support. This allows it to act as a digital credit card when shopping in stores that support contactless payment services like Google Pay.
To make the most of its capable hardware, the Xperia XA1 Ultra comes loaded with the Android 7.0 operating system, also known as "Nougat". More importantly, though, Sony released an update in 2018 to upgrade the XA1 Ultra to Android 8.0 "Oreo", expanding its capabilities with a slew of extra features. These include smarter management of background apps to increase performance, a faster boot-up process and more useful notifications that aim to provide key information without the need to open up individual apps.
23MP rear camera plus a 16MP front camera is a strong combination
Sony's legacy in the professional camera business is evident here
Like its smaller sibling, the Xperia XA1, the Xperia XA1 Ultra has a whole lot to offer camera junkies. Leveraging its expertise in the dedicated camera industry, Sony has outfitted the Xperia XA1 Ultra with a 23MP Exmore RS sensor and a 24mm f/2.0 aperture lens at the back plus a 16MP Exmore R sensor and a 23mm f/2.0 aperture lens at the front. In practical terms, both those cameras are seriously sharp and should be more than powerful enough for general mobile photography.
High resolutions aren't all the Xperia XA1 Ultra's cameras have going for them, either. Both cameras feature wide-angle lenses that let you cram more people into each shot, and the primary rear camera also utilises Sony's SteadyShot image stabilisation technology for higher clarity when taking action shots. The rear camera benefits from hybrid autofocus, too, which Sony claims is able to ensure crisp shots even at a moment's notice.
Slightly under-equipped compared to similarly-priced handsets
Should still be more than adequate for most users
If there's one aspect of the Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra that holds it back, it's the MediaTek Helio P20 processor powering it. Sony used the same chip in the significantly cheaper Xperia XA1, and even there it's only average compared to other smartphones at that price point.
In the Xperia XA1 Ultra, meanwhile, it's going up against phones equipped with Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 processors like the Motorola Moto G6 Plus and Nokia 6.1. Since the Helio P20 is roughly comparable to the slower Snapdragon 625, this puts the Xperia XA1 at a disadvantage, albeit a relatively small one in the grand scheme of things. Yes, you can find faster smartphones out there for a similar price, but for day-to-day tasks most users are unlikely to encounter any issues with the Xperia XA1 Ultra.
For a 6-inch phone, a 2,700mAh battery is a little on the small side
Quick Charge support offsets some of the pain of such a compact battery
While Sony has stepped up its battery game from the Xperia XA1, it's still a little disappointing to see that the Xperia XA1 Ultra only includes a 2,700mAh battery. That hefty 6-inch screen can chew through a lot of power, and with rival handsets like the Motorola Moto G6 Plus and Nokia 6.1 packing batteries of 3,000mAh or more, it leaves the Xperia XA1 Ultra feeling decidedly underpowered.
Sony's tacit acknowledgement of this seems to be the inclusion of a STAMINA mode, which purports to increase battery life by disabling non-critical apps and services. Even so, eking out a full day of use on a single charge might be a struggle for heavier phone users.
Fortunately, if you do find yourself out of juice, the Xperia XA1 Ultra supports fast charging via the included Quick Charger accessory. Sony claims it can deliver "hours of power in minutes", thereby getting you back up and on the go with minimal downtime.
Pricing and availability
Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra
A big handset for small budgets
The Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra delivers a smart balance of high-quality features at an affordable price.
Matt Sayer is a writer for Finder, covering all things technology and telecommunications. Along with reporting on events like CES and Mobile World Congress, he has produced comprehensive guides for popular products like smart speakers and graphics cards. He has a Bachelor of Computer Science from RMIT University and is passionate about helping Aussies leverage technology to better their lives.
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